A few years ago the talk in women's professional tennis was all about the "Russian Revolution"--all the Russian women who were quickly ascending the rankings and, in 2004, winning 3 of the 4 Grand Slams. Though the cadre of Russian women--some of the same, some new--are still a formidable threat at every tour stop it seems, a new revolution is brewing. This one is a little farther east: China. Chinese women are making a name for themselves in both women's singles and doubles.
But what's interesting is that they aren't being discussed in the same ways that the Russian women were. In fact, whereas names like Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Dementieva, etc. are known to tennis fans, there are probably few who could actually name some of the dominant Chinese players right now despite their success. (Yan Zi and Zheng Jie won the doubles title at this year's Australian Open.)
There are probably many factors that have contributed to this lack of attention. It does not seem like many Chinese players speak English which is quite a turnoff to American broadcasters who cannot do impromptu courtside or locker room interviews. This may also lead to the lack of information and personal stories being circulated about these players--something that was not in short supply when the Russians came of age. (How many times have we heard that Maria Sharapova and her father left her mother in Siberia and came to Florida with just a few hundred dollars to convince Nick Bollettieri to train the nine-year old Maria?) The Chinese players also don't fit neatly into the two stereotypes Americans have of Asian women: subservient or exotic. If they're not bowing to men or posing in a dark and sultry manner we just can't seem to comprehend their purpose.
Their purpose, it seems, is a nationalistic one. China is hosting the Olympics next summer and is vigorously supporting women's tennis (and other sports) in an attempt to make a strong showing as the home team.
The situation still calls for further scrutiny, especially because it seems sports for Asian women are on the rise. Perhaps this is also part of the 2008 Olympic fever or maybe a more general movement is afoot. Whatever it is, it is generating news. I am seeing far more stories about Asian women in a variety of sports: cricket, ice hockey (the Chinese had a team in the most recent world championships and were scheduled to host the annual tournament in 2005 but had to cancel because of SARS), and now rugby.
Doha, Qatar just hosted the Asian Women's Seven with teams from across Asia competing in rugby. Qatar also played host to the December 2006 Asian Games. Sport, in general, is on the rise in the country but "participation of locals, especially women, is low, and it is this kind of event that may encourage local women to get involved in sporting activity."
What the article does not mention though are the limitations that prevent Asian women's participation. Two that come immediately to mind are class and religion. Poor and working class women--worldwide--have few, if any, opportunities for sports participation. This situation is rarely recognized and certainly not addressed.
And Muslim women--many of whom live in Asia--can face nearly impossible constrictions on their athletic participation. The pictures from the Asian Women's Seven do not show any participant trying to adhere to hijab. There was no mention of special conditions that would have limited the audience to only female viewers. But these are issues Muslim women who want to participate in sports have to negotiate if they want any chance of participating.
The number of Muslim women who participated in the last summer Olympics was minuscule. It will interesting to see how much of a difference four years and a non-Western venue makes.